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Will Landowners on the Border Soon Face Condemnation?

Eminent Domain Lawyer USWhen President Donald Trump announced that a major goal of his administration was to build a wall along the southern border that separates the United States and Mexico, many dismissed this claim as mere bluster. After all, a truly massive and historic undertaking like that was just not possible given the current fractured nature of our federal government. However, like many of the president’s claims, his promise to build a border wall proved more than just bluster, as the administration is already testing prototypes for the wall. An important question besides who will pay for the wall is: How will the administration assemble the land necessary to construct such a behemoth structure?

Though a non-traditional president, it seems that Trump is preparing to use a quite traditional method of assembling the land required for the wall—eminent domain. Since roughly two-thirds of the U.S.-Mexico border runs through state-owned or private lands, the federal government would need to purchase, seize, or seek permission to use that land. Based on efforts a decade ago to build a fence along the border, that process is likely to cost the federal government millions of dollars and would require years of complex litigation. However, the administration apparently is already gearing up for that fight.

Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a report last month focusing on eminent domain and the proposed border wall. The committee points to signs that the administration is preparing for a fresh round of legal fights, as Congress continues to debate whether to give the Department of Homeland Security any money to build new barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. In July, Customs and Border Protection issued a notice related to a project to enhance existing fencing in the Rio Grande Valley. ”Using existing funds for preparatory activities, CBP and [US Army Corps of Engineers] will soon begin public-facing real estate research activities for [Rio Grande Valley] border wall requirements in the President’s FY 2018 budget,” the notice stated.

The report’s authors also conducted interviews with landowners along the border who have experienced eminent domain proceedings in the past. One of them, Noel Benavides, told the committee that the government began condemnation proceedings on his land in 2008, but that these proceedings stopped in the first days of the Obama administration. However, in March and April of this year, the government filed amended complaints and the condemnation proceedings began again. The U.S. Attorney’s office cited getting title information and a survey as the reason for the updated case filing. The report also points to the administration’s budget requests for next year, which seeks an additional 12 attorneys for $2 million in the Justice Department specifically to handle land acquisition cases.

Taken together, all of the evidence in the government report indicates that the administration is indeed preparing to use mass eminent domain procedures against border landowners to build the wall, and it’s now only a matter of time until they begin.

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If you are a landowner facing condemnation, don’t try to handle it alone. To protect your rights and interests, contact the eminent domain attorneys at Sever Storey to discuss your case by calling (888) 318-3761 or write us online.

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